London Community News
The London District Chiefs Council (LDCC) is lending its voice to the growing chorus of those opposed to the First Nations Education Act (FNEA) being considered by the Harper government.
“This proposal would give the federal government more control over educating our children, and we all know Ottawa doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to schooling our people,” said LDCC chair and Delaware Nation Chief Greg Peters. People from the LDCC communities plan to demonstrate against FNEA at a Unity Rally in front of the Aboriginal Affairs offices in Toronto (25 St. Clair Ave. E.) on Wednesday (Dec 4), beginning at 10:30 a.m. LDCC is a political affiliation of First Nation governments in southwestern Ontario.
Peters said there are a number of concerns surrounding FNEA, but first and foremost is that it fails to recognize First Nation’s inherent right to exercise jurisdiction over their own education systems. “It is our responsibility to educate our children in ways that reinforce our worldview, our languages, our ways — something we have done long before the imposition of federal control over our lives.”
Other concerns of LDCC include: the development of FNEA without proper consultation with First Nations; a one-size-fits-all approach which neglects diverse languages and cultures; Ottawa’s increased authority over standards and accountability in schools; and no guarantees for adequate funding, despite increased reporting requirements.
Sherry Huff, LDCC media co-ordinator, said the proposed act is “very paternalistic” in that it was brought forward without sufficient input from First Nations communities.
Huff said the act itself also increases government control over First Nations education at a time when many communities are “making strides” despite the funding shortfall from the federal government.
“They are doing what they can with what they have, creating some exciting partnerships within their communities to deliver language and culture programs within their schools,” Huff said. “That is the kind of initiative we would like to see embraced, not more of the same of what we had where the federal government calls the shots and language and culture are seen as a fringe benefit and not the core of the whole program, which is what we would like to see.”
Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, announced in October the next steps on the consultation process on a legislative proposal for First Nations education.
“Our government firmly believes that all First Nation students across Canada deserve access to a school system that meets provincial and territorial standards, while respecting First Nation culture, language, rights and treaties,” Valcourt said. “The draft legislative proposal for First Nation education would put in place a system that is accountable to students, and ensures that First Nation students have access, like all Canadians, to a good education.”
The draft legislative proposal has been shared with more than 600 Chiefs and Band Councils and every First Nation community across the country, as well as provincial governments, for further input prior to legislation being introduced in Parliament. Once introduced, the Parliamentary process will offer additional opportunities for input.
“Ultimately, all input will contribute to improved education on reserve that guarantees minimum standards, provides the mechanism required for stable, predictable and sustainable funding, and improves First Nation control over First Nation education,” Valcourt said. “First Nations students deserve no less.”
Of the $275 million committed in the federal government’s Economic Action Plan 2012 for First Nations education, $175 million is to be used to build and renovate schools on reserve, providing First Nation students with a better learning environment.
The remaining $100 million will be used to provide early literacy programming and partnerships with the provincial schools systems through the new Strong Schools, Successful Students Initiative announced in October 2012.
The goal is to have the Act in place by September 2014.
Huff said LDCC still does not know if the proposed act will be the answer First Nations communities are looking for. In particular, Huff said there remains significant concern that teachers in reserve schools don’t get paid what their provincial counterparts do, despite doing the exact same work.
In addition, students on reserves get a half to two-thirds less in funding support, which is to cover not only teacher salaries, but also supplies, school trips and other supports.
With that in mind, Huff said the goal is to create a noise the minister can’t ignore. That noise will start not only at the Toronto gathering point on St. Clair Avenue, but in Brantford, Sudbury and Thunder Bay as well.
“I am hoping we get 500 to 1,000, but it is really anybody’s guess,” Huff said. “We are hoping for as many as possible to get the attention of the minister.”
LDCC communities include Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Bkejwanong First Nation, Caldwell First Nation, Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Delaware Nation, Munsee Delaware Nation and the Oneida Nation of the Thames.